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Do jurors get what they expect? Traditional versus alternative forms of children's testimony

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This study examined prospective jurors’ expectancies for the verbal and nonverbal behavior of a child testifying in a sexual abuse case. Community members (N =261) reporting for jury duty completed a survey in which they described their expectancies for how a child alleging sexual abuse would appear when testifying and their beliefs about discerning children's truthfulness, testimony stress, and fairness to trial parties. Within this survey, we varied the child's age (5, 10, or 15 years old), type of abuse alleged (vaginal fondling or penetration), and whether the abuse actually occurred (yes, no) between participants across five different testimony conditions (traditional live in-court, support person present, closed-circuit television, preparation, and videotape) within each participant. Participants expected a child providing traditional testimony to be more nervous, tearful, and fidgety; less confident, cooperative, and fluent; and to maintain less eye contact and provide shorter responses than when the child provided alternative forms of testimony. Participants believed it was easiest to determine a child's truthfulness and fairest to the defendant when the child testified live in court, but that this form of testimony was the most stressful and unfair to the child. Expectancies and beliefs differed within the alternative forms of testimony as well. Negative evaluations of children's alternative testimony may be the result of expectancy violation; namely, jurors expect differences in children's verbal and nonverbal behavior as a result of accommodation, but those differences actually do not occur.
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Keywords: child witness; closed-circuit television; expectancy violation; preparation; support person; verbal and nonverbal behavior; videotape

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology,California State University, Northridge, USA 2: John Jay College of Criminal Justice,City University New York, USA

Publication date: 2012-01-01

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